How much should an employer have to budge when it comes to respecting a worker’s religious beliefs?
Whatever the answer is, this story gets out of hand from both directions.
Pliant Corp. has its workers wear stickers showing how many days it’s been since the last accident. One day, it approached Day 666…
You can figure out where this is going:
[Billy E. Hyatt] grew nervous in early 2009 as the number of accident-free days crept into the 600s. As the company’s safety calendar approached day 666, Hyatt said he approached a manager and explained that wearing it would force him “to accept the mark of the beast and to be condemned to hell.” He said the manager assured him he wouldn’t have to wear the number.
When the day came on March 12, 2009, Hyatt sought a manager to discuss his request. He said he was told that his beliefs were “ridiculous” and that he should wear the sticker or serve a three-day suspension.
Alright, we’ll get the obvious out of the way. Hyatt’s superstitions have no business in the workplace. No one’s asking him to renounce his beliefs or endorse “the beast.” They’re asking him to wear a sticker like everyone else has to. And he’s refusing because he thinks the Baby Jesus will cry if he does that. You want evidence of his inability to think rationally? There you go.
At the same time, did he deserve to be fired over it? Nope. It’s a goddamn sticker, not safety goggles and a helmet. What would’ve happened if he didn’t wear it? Nothing. Hell, depending on the size of the sticker, most people probably wouldn’t have noticed.
Suzanne Lucas at CBS News puts it all in perspective:
As a manager, you may have an employee make requests that seem ridiculous. Before you shout, “I’m the boss!” and “because I said so!” stop and think, “what’s the worst thing that can happen here?” because if it’s a very strange request, or an inconsequential one, the worst from saying no may be worse than the worst from saying yes.
This isn’t about religious, per se. It’s about a simple request that became overblown.
The company has every right to fire employees who don’t adhere to particular rules — or follow a required dress code. But to force compliance for something so inconsequential? It’s petty and unnecessary.
Hyatt’s now suing over this:
Hyatt took the three-day suspension, and was fired at a human resources meeting several days later. He then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and his attorney Stephen Mixon said the agency granted him the right to sue the company in August.
The lawsuit, which seeks punitive damages and back pay, said the company forced him into a terrible situation: Keep his job or “abandon his religious beliefs.”
The company, now known as Berry Plastics Corp., did not return several calls and emails seeking comment. It has yet to respond to the complaint in court.
That’s why he’s going to lose this case. This was never about Hyatt’s delusional beliefs. No one was asking him to stop being a Christian for a day. They just asked him to wear a sticker. But Hyatt wrongly attached supernatural significance to it.
He doesn’t need to go to court; he needs to see a psychiatrist.
(Thanks to Garrison for the link!)